Google Faces German Complaints in EU Antitrust Probe

Google Inc. faces European Union antitrust complaints from publishers and a map provider who say the search engine discriminates against their sites, regulators said.

The European Commission took over part of a complaint initially filed with the German antitrust agency in January after it opened its own probe, said Jonathan Todd, a spokesman for the European Commission. The EU and national regulators don’t usually investigate the same issues in parallel, he said in a telephone interview today.

The EU is examining whether Google, the world’s biggest Internet search provider, discriminated against competing services in its search results and stopped some websites from accepting rival ads. The complaints in that case were filed by a Microsoft Corp. Internet unit and other rivals.

Google will “continue to work cooperatively with the commission and national regulators explaining many aspects of our business,” Al Verney, a spokesman for the Mountain View, California-based company, said in an e-mailed statement. “There’s always going to be room for improvement so we are working to address any concerns,” he said.

Google’s search engine consistently “lists websites of publishers lower than its own products” such as YouTube and Google News, said Eckhard Bremer, a Berlin-based lawyer at Hogan Lovells LLP who represents the German newspaper and magazine publishers’ associations BDZV and VDZ. The search engine’s rankings are not neutral and publishers have no real alternative for displaying their content because most users make search queries on Google, he said in a telephone interview.

German Searches

Germany is Europe’s biggest market for Internet searches with at least 54 million people making queries in August, according to Reston, Virginia-based ComScore Inc. Google attracted 92.2 percent of German search-engine visitors in November, said AT Internet.

German antitrust officials haven’t decided whether to open an investigation into the publishers’ demand for compensation when Google displays portions of their material, Kay Weidner, a spokesman for the Bonn-based Federal Cartel Office, said in an interview today.

It’s “only natural” for German regulators to hand over the search part of the case to the EU because “it doesn’t make sense that two agencies look into the same algorithm issues,” he said.

Mapping Service

Hans Biermann, chief executive of online mapping service Euro-Cities AG, said the EU will review its allegation that Google’s searches are unfair because Google Maps is always ranked higher.

Regulators are also looking at complaints from U.K. shopping search site Foundem, which says that Google promotes its product search above rivals, and Ejustice.fr, a French legal search engine, which says Google repeatedly removed its site from search results.

Google is drawing increasing scrutiny from regulators over its market power, and other rivals filed an antitrust complaint in Europe earlier this year. There also has been criticism from French, German and U.K. data protection regulators over Google’s Street View service, which shows pictures of streets and homes.

Antitrust regulators have the power to impose fines of as much as 10 percent of revenue for monopoly abuses. The EU’s highest-ever penalty, 1.06 billion euros ($1.4 billion), was levied against Intel Corp. last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karin Matussek in Berlin at kmatussek@bloomberg.net Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net.

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